So, Mahjong Soul has consumed your life to the point where you want your own irl mahjong set? Maybe you want to force your friends to learn the game (you do have friends, right?) or maybe you just want to play with pretty tiles and make shitpost images. Whatever you're into, hopefully this guide can help you find one.
There's also TLDR at the bottom if this is too much info.
What you need for IRL Play
- Base 136 tiles
- Play space
- 3 other people
- Some six-sided dice, usually 2.
- Table with a lip, or a mat
- Point sticks
- Shuugi chips
- Yakitori markers
Types of Mahjong Sets
This is what you see in games like Mahjong Soul. Tiles are small (generally under 30mm tall), thick enough to stand up on their own, and all modern sets will include red fives you can optionally swap in. Japanese sets basically never have Arabic numerals. If you're playing riichi, a Japanese set is probably what you want. Japanese sets are usually more expensive than Chinese sets since you have to import them.
Much larger tiles, generally 33mm or bigger. Tiles are thick enough to stand on their own and sets include 8 flower/season tiles. No red fives, and the "font" of the tiles and the design of the markings will be a bit different from what you see in Riichi games (blue rectangle instead of blank tile for haku, etc). Chinese sets are generally the cheapest to buy and finding sets with Arabic numerals isn't too difficult. Chinese sets sometimes have the same point sticks as Japanese sets and sometimes have chips for scoring instead. If you don't want to deal with shipping and want a mahjong set RIGHT NOW you can probably find loads of them locally at your nearest city's China town for not much money.
Tiles are usually about 30mm tall but they're very thin and meant to be used with Scrabble-style racks. The tiles won't stand up on their own. Includes eight flower/season tiles in addition to eight joker tiles. Tile engravings are generally based on Chinese designs, however the dragons typically have actual red and green pictures of dragons instead of the chun and hatsu kanji. No point sticks, American uses little chips instead. American sets are expensive because you're paying for the racks and also because the NMJL sets the price bar high for their official sets.
Riichi only uses the base 136 tiles (no flowers, seasons, or jokers) so you while you can play it with any mahjong set, I REALLY do not recommend getting an American set because the aesthetic is just so different and the prices are so jacked up. However if your grandma has a set or something and you want to play with it since it's already there, go for it, it'll work. Chinese sets are fine and totally playable if you prefer bigger tiles, but you'll just miss out on the red fives. If you're particularly interested in Riichi though, I really do recommend getting a Japanese set because much of the look and feel value comes from the Japanese markings and and how smaller tiles are handled.
From here on out, this guide assumes you're interested in buying a Japanese set.
What size tiles should I get?
Japanese sets come in a couple different sizes. Technically the standard size is 25mm, but that's generally seen as a little small by Riichi players these days and AMOS's small sets are 26mm instead. 28mm is most common in modern Riichi and personally I think it's the nicest size, it still has the Japanese small tile aesthetic but it's big enough to handle a little easier than the 26mm. Almost all modern auto tables use 28mm and it's what you see on the Abema streams. The only modern 25mm sets I'm aware of are the Yellow Mountain Imports set and then Nintendo sets which are probably out of your price range anyways.
Personally I think 25mm is too small but still totally playable, 26mm is fine, 28mm is perfect, and anything larger is too big.
Here's a reference pic of the common sizes:
Yellow Mountain Imports ($64.94)
This is the only Japanese-style set that's sold officially in the west so you don't have to import it. Contrary to the brand name this isn't actually an imported set, it's made for Western markets. The tiles are 25mm and the quality control isn't quite as high as AMOS sets. Depending on where you live you should be able to import an AMOS Monster or Gabin for the same final price after shipping, so I wouldn't really recommend it unless you're somewhere where importing is super expensive. They also sell a "night mode" set with black tiles and yellow/white ink, but I don't really recommend it since the tiles have no marked backs which means your hakus will get worn on both sides and if your play surface isn't smooth so you'll eventually see shuffle wear on both sides and they'll stand out.
Not my video, but here's someone comparing the YMI set with an AMOS Max: YoutubeAMOS Monster (~3,700 JPY)
This is AMOS's basic 26mm set. Especially if you're on a budget, this is a good deal because the base price of 3636 JPY plus even like $30 for shipping is still less than the YMI set. The point sticks are a little thin and cheap feeling, but the tiles themselves are perfectly nice. All AMOS sets come with red fives you can swap in, and all of these AMOS sets should ship overseas without a middleman service.
AMOS Gabin (~4,400 JPY)
This is the same set as the Monster except the tiles are weighted with an iron core to make them feel heftier and it also comes with yakitori markers and some betting chips. It also has a traditional case instead of the Monster's bag-style one. The added heft on the tiles is nice, but it's really not necessary and the weight may make it cost a bit more to ship anyways. It's really just up to you whether or not you want to pay a little extra for more solid-feeling tiles, however if you're this far I feel like you might as well go for the AMOS Max instead.
AMOS Max (~5,500 JPY)
This is AMOS's prime set. The tiles are 28mm and I believe they're weighted. The point sticks and wind marker are a lot higher quality than the Monster and Gabin and it comes with a few extra vanity dice. As I mentioned before I think 28mm is the perfect size and with the accessories being nicer this is really the goto set if you can afford it. The AMOS Mater is the Max's sister set, but I honestly have no clue what's different other than the extra dice not being included. It's only like 200 yen cheaper anyways so you might as well just get the Max.
eBay plastic and bamboo sets (~ 70)
For whatever reason, there are loads of new old stock 25mm plastic-faced and bamboo-backed sets on eBay. I'm not sure who makes these or when they're from, but I think most of them are knock offs and every time I see one go up it's slightly different. They usually have a slight curve to them, so when your hand is stood up and pressed together it'll slightly arc towards you instead of forming a straight line of tiles. Both sets I've used of this style have felt pretty solid and hefty however. If you're interested in a Japanese-style set with Arabic numerals this is really your only option, if you do enough digging and waiting you should be able to find one with Japanese-style font and markings but also Arabic numerals. The price is kind of all over the place because nobody knows what they're worth, but I got mine for around $40 after shipping so you can find some deals if you're patient. I've never seen one with red fives.
Other funsets to show everyone you're the biggest irl whale
I want green ink!
The short answer here is "you're shit out of luck." Despite basically every mahjong game and anime showing bright green ink on the souzu suit and hatsu tiles, on every remotely modern Japanese set the tiles are effectively just inked black and red. On most AMOS tiles I believe there actually is "green" ink but it's so dark that it might as well be black. I can only barely see a difference under a super bright light and only by looking at the edges where the ink thins.
Vintage Nintendo sets do have green ink (but that would be too old for red fives), and sometimes you can find the plastic and bamboo sets with green ink but those also never have red fives.
I want numbered tiles like in Mahjong Soul!
As far as I'm aware those eBay sets are really your only option here unless you're okay with getting a Chinese set. The real answer is to just learn the 1-9 and wind kanji so you don't need one, all the other sets are a lot nicer feeling. If you can learn how to play mahjong you can learn 13 kanji! Besides, red numerals aren't very aesthetic. Once you get serious about learning them, try removing the red text in the majong soul settings.
A numbered set is nice for teaching new people though, it definitely helps with the entry barrier and lets people focus more on understanding the game and less on what their tiles even are.
These should also be able to be purchased internationally from Amazon JP without a middleman service just like the AMOS sets:
Most of the time you see pics of irl non-autotable mahjong you'll see it on a junk mat. Junk mats are neoprene mats with raised edges that have trays for point sticks, the mat is connected to two opposite edges so you roll that up for storage (don't roll it too tight though, doing that can make the mat loose) and then the other two edges snap on. The edges keep tiles from falling off the table when shuffling, make it easy to straighten your hand against, and give you a nice edge to build walls against when setting up.
Junk mats are nice, but you really don't need one starting out. A folding card table with a cloth over it is perfectly fine and you can always buy one later if you find yourself really getting into the game. There's one on Amazon with the import shipping already baked into the price, so you can just get that later if you decide to upgrade.
Instead, you could consider taking the time and effort to find a proper Mahjong table, like the one I found on Ebay here: https://imgur.com/a/PqY0F3u
I found a table called the "Puzzle Jigsaw" tables (they change the name up often, but this is the one I saw the most) and I haven't been able to shut up about it since. The price on these things is only slightly more expensive than a Junk Mat will typically cost, but it offers free shipping on most of the ads I've seen for it, and it's much, much more higher quality than the Junk Mat. There is some cheapness to it, especially on the bottom area, but considering what you're getting for the slight additional cost more than makes up for it. It also has this beautiful "tonk" sound it makes when a tile hits the surface of the table that is to die for. While considered rude, if you're with friends, it's a wonderful sound to make. Also comes with little drawers and Cup/Cigarette trays on each corner which can be rotated inwards. Highly recommended.
Ebay has been where I've able to find these, however I recently did another search and couldn't find any. But you can always do a Google search or check your local Asian Import store might have something available, or you might be able to find it in stock elsewhere. If you absolutely must, the Junk Mat isn't something to snub your nose at, but a table is where it's at.
You can totally build your own table, and it's not very hard to do at all. It's just a flat piece of wood on evenly cut legs. Maybe a drawer system. The hardest part of doing it is getting the cloth. What you want is something called "Poker Speed Cloth", which is cloth designed specifically for Casino tables. If that's too expensive, Velvet is always a good choice. Fun project if you have an afternoon and too little money, too much time.
Shuffle them around like crazy, don't mind if they flip face up because you won't get as thorough of a shuffle if you do it slowly enough to keep them face down. Once you feel like they're sufficiently shuffled you can flip them all over and then mix them around a bit face down so nobody knows which ones were where. Japanese players typically skip the second step and just flip face-up tiles over and push them towards other players for their walls, but that opens up a lot of cheating opportunities.
The standard way to build walls is to grab four tiles with each hand and start lining them up against the table edge, and then grab four with one hand and five with the other. 4 + 4 + 4 + 5 = 17. Do it again for the second row, and then you can slide the front row forward so you can lift the back row on top of it. Press on the ends with your pinkies and grab near the middle with your index and thumbs, you should be able to lift the full 17 tile line with a little practice.
If you're in /mjg/, you probably want a Japanese set. If you're on a budget, import an AMOS Monster or Gabin unless it would cost significantly more than the Yellow Mountain Imports set in which case you can just order that without paying for a Japan import. If you want the real deal and are willing to spend a bit more for the nicest set, get an AMOS Max. I know you want green ink, but Japanese sets with green ink basically don't exist. You should learn the manzu and wind kanji instead of relying on numbered tiles, but if you absolutely have to have numbered tiles crawl around on eBay until one of the new old stock Japanese-sized plastic and bamboo sets with Arabic numerals pops up.